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Chancery Visitors

A small section of 19th century lunatics had their own specialist commission, separate from the Lunacy Commissioners. The affairs of Chancery Lunatics were regulated by the Masters in Lunacy, and they were visited by the Chancery Visitors.

Chancery Visitors were introduced by Brougham (See 3.6). His 1833 Chancery Lunatics Act enabled the Lord Chancellor to appoint three Visitors: two physicians who could be paid salaries not exceeding £500 a year; and a barrister of 5 years standing who could be paid up to £300 a year (s.2). A "Secretary to the Visitors" could be paid up to £300 a year and £30 a year provided for offices and expenses. The physicians were to visit every Chancery Lunatic once a year (s.7).

However, note the 1832 Chancery Sinecures Act. What may have happened is that certain offices established by the Lord Chancellor were abolished and (where desirable) replaced by offices established by statute. The same people may have been re-appointed - So someone appointed by Lord Chancellor Lyndhurst to a role not established by statute might be re- appointed by Lord Chancellor Brougham to that role as established by statute.

Visitors were paid as office holders who performed certain functions. when and how they did so they were free to arrange conveniently with their other activities. There was no statutory control on the time they spent on, or the attention they paid to, the office. (Full time visitors were not established until 1862). Their early history is obscure, but evidence to the 1859-1860 SCHC suggests they formed an informal Board of Visitors, meeting by mutual arrangement, and that the legal Visitors function was to be Board Chair. In law, however, Visitors were individually responsible to the Lord Chancellor. The Board could only act in an advisory capacity to its members. The medical visitors reports might be (and later definitely were) discussed at board meetings, re-drafted by the secretary in the light of that discussion, and forwarded by him to the Lord Chancellor's "Secretary for Lunatics"; but each report remained the report of the medical visitor who signed it. In 1859 each medical Visitor had half the country as his territory and all chancery lunatics in it were his responsibility. I suspect that this division was made by mutual arrangement between the original visitors in 1833 (See 1859-1860 SCHC Evidence of Southey, Bright, Enfield and Barlow passim).

Brougham appointed his friend Southey one of the first medical visitors, although he may only have confirmed an appointment already made. Correspondence from Brougham, discovered by Frank Emmett in his research on Dr J.P. Kay, shows that the first appointment was William MacMichael. This is an extract from a letter Brougham wrote to Molyneux (Lord Sefton) explaining why a post he had sought for Dr Kay was not available. The date on the letter from Molyneux to Kay, including the extract, is 18.4.1833:

"the appointment of Dr Kaye proceeds on a mistake. The three places were filled up December 1830 - indeed they were filled up by Copley and I only confirmed what had been intended. Two are physicians and one a lawyer - One of the physicians was taken as a matter of course being the Court of Chancery Physician (Dr. Macmichael) and the other one of the Metropolitan faculty recommended by him..." (Kay-Shuttleworth Papers at Manchester Rylands Library, K-SP No. 89, to J. P.Kay, 18th April 1833)

I interpret "Metropolitan faculty" as meaning Royal College of Physicians.

The appointment of Macmichael is confirmed by Nick Hervey's research. Macmichael died in 1839, when he was replaced by Cornwallis Hewett. In 1842, Cornwallis Hewett was replaced by Bright as Chancery Visitor (along with Southey)

William Phillimore (one of the pre-1842 Commissioners for Lunatics), who was the legal visitor from 1842 to 1861, may have been so from 1833.. He was an equity draughtsman with chambers at 6 Stone Buildings, Lincolns Inn; had been called to the bar at Lincolns Inn on 19.11.1799, and was a Commissioners for Lunatics at least from 1827 . When he died, on 28.11.1860, he was still Chairman of the Board.

The Law lists for 1842 (which can be taken as relating to 1841) show Henry Enfield, junior; an attorney of 19 Southampton Buildings, as Secretary to the Chancery Visitors. (see below)


Lyndhurst's 1842 Chancery Lunatics Act created two full time Masters in Lunacy) at salaries of £2,000 a year. The previous Masters in Lunacy had been restricted to twenty miles around London. The new ones could preside at hearings anywhere in the country. By section 4 they were ex-officio Visitors with power at any time to visit Chancery Lunatics either by themselves or with the ordinary Visitors (See Hansard 8.3.1842 col. 206). If I am correct that the Board existed informally from 1833, they presumably became members.

From 1842 the Board's history becomes far less obscure as its offices and and members can be found in the Law lists and other directories.

A joint office for the Masters in Lunacy and Chancery Visitors was established at Lincolns Inn Fields. Henry Enfield became Chief Clerk to the Masters and Secretary to the Visitors of Lunatics.

The ordinary Visitors were Phillimore, Bright and Southey.

Edward Winslow and Barlow were appointed Masters in Lunacy. Both were previously officers of the Lord Chancellor:

  • Winslow was Secretary for Bankrupts. He had also been (1832-1842) one of the previous Masters (Commissioners) in Lunacy. He was an equity draughtsman, a barrister of Lincolns Inn since 24.11.1826, practising from 6 Stone Buildings, Lincolns Inn (see Phillimore.

  • Barlow was Secretary of Presentations

Law lists and other directories it appears Winslow was replaced as Secretary for Bankrupts in 1842, but Barlow remained Secretary of Presentations at least until 1845.

Barlow, Southey and bright were all Metropolitan Commissioners, so from 1842 both medical Visitors and one Master in Lunacy were on both Boards. In the same year, Somerset spoke in the House of Commons of the possibility of amalgamating the two bodies ( Hansard17.3.1842 col 803). This was not to be, but the overlap of members seems to have been in part an effort to consolidate their activities. (See Barlow's biography).

The 1845 Lunacy Act prohibited professional commissioners from holding any other paid office (5S.2.3), so a Chancery Visitor could not be, simultaneously, a professional Lunacy commissioner. Bright and Southey both continued as Visitors and ceased being commissioners. Barlow continued as an honorary commissioner until 1886, as a link between the two bodies.

1853 Under the 1853 Chancery Lunatics Act, section 20, Masters and Visitors were required to meet as a Board, thus making practice a statutory requirement. The Board remained, however, only an advisory body.

1862 Westbury's 1862 Chancery Lunatics Act provided for three full time Visitors, one legal and two medical, who were to visit every Chancery lunatic twice a year. Pensions were provided for Bright and Southey, whilst Dr W.C. Hood, superintendent of Bethlem, and Dr J.C. Bucknill, superintendent of Devon County Asylum were appointed to replace them.

A case in the Court of Appeal 1.11.2005 "In the matter of M.B. (A patient)", contains detailed information about the legal history of the Court of Protection

On 25.9.2003, I met Denzil Lush, the present Master of the Court of Protection, to discuss this and the linked pages. I amended the content in the light of his explanation of the development the court, and the sources he introduced me to. Denzil has continued to advise me since our meeting (but I am responsible for errors!).

© Andrew Roberts 1981-

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chancery lunatics

county asylums

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single lunatics

Medical Visitors

developed from a list in a paper by Denzil Lush, Master of the Court of Protection


William MacMichael 1833 to 1839
Henry Herbert Southey 1833 to 1863

Cornwallis Hewett 1839 to 1841


John Bright 1841 to 1863


1863 to 1870
Sir William Hood

1863 to 1876
Sir John Charles Bucknill

1870 to 1896
Charles Lockhart Robinson

Sir James Crichton-Browne

David Nicolson

Legal Visitors


William Phillimore


William Norris Nicholson

Edward Charles Russell Ross

Ralph Charlton Palmer

John William Mansfield, Lord Sandhurst


Francis Barlow

Edward Winslow

William Frederick Higgins

Samuel Warren

William Norris Nicholson

Henry Shore Lowndes Graham